NY Times Travel
By FRANK BRUNI
Published: January 11, 2009
A chattering woman on a barstool near mine swirls her screwdriver as if it were cabernet sauvignon, not seeming to notice the waves of orange liquid crashing over the rim. A cackling woman in a strapless black dress and a red Santa cap whirls by, glancing over her shoulder to make sure her three beer-toting, leer-throwing suitors are still there.
When I get up and start to walk toward the door, a woozy man heading in the same direction falls onto my back to use me as transport. He mumbles something in Icelandic. After riding me for about 20 feet, he collapses onto someone else. Many people notice. No one bats an eye.
It’s midnight on a Saturday, which means Reykjavik’s runtur, or pub crawl, is under way. Many bars stay open past 4 a.m. on both Friday and Saturday. And from what I can see and what I’m told, this country’s financial collapse — a sharp devaluation of the currency that has made this once prohibitively expensive destination more affordable for visitors — hasn’t emptied them a bit.
“Quieter?” laughs Elva, a bartender at the stylish club Solon, repeating part of my question to her. “Oh, no. No. People want to drink their troubles away.”
1) WALKING BEFORE CRAWLING
Don’t dally! If it’s January or February, you don’t have much sunlight left, and you want to get your Reykjavik bearings well in advance of the overnight pub crawl, when the number and unruliness of the locals in the downtown streets, coupled with your own possible inebriation, could make navigating (or even perambulating) slightly difficult. Start on the northeastern edge of Tjornin, the pond in the center of this city of only about 120,000, which feels more like an overgrown village. Walk northeast, past the Hotel Borg and the lovely square it faces, until you hit Austurstraeti street. Hang a right and follow it as it rises uphill and becomes Laugavegur. You’ll get tantalizing peeks, to your left, of the stunning harbor.
2) PUFFINS AND REINDEER
If you’re smart you’ve planned a late dinner and taken a little nap beforehand, so you don’t have to bow out of the night’s pub crawl before you’ve made a decent go of it. If you’re even smarter, you’ve thought to make a reservation at Fish Market (Adalstraeti 12; 354-578-8877; http://www.fishmarket.is), which fills up quickly, even in these less affluent times. It spreads over two handsome floors and, most important, has a menu that lets you know you’re in Iceland. My companion and I tried smoked puffin, which had an appealing livery quality like that of many game birds. Grilled whale meat was even more compelling: it had the appearance, texture and heft of beef, but faintly saline nuances that suggested its source was the sea. As we drank frigidly cold, excellent martinis made with Icelandic vodka, we moved on to reindeer (predictably like venison), goose and Arctic char. Although the dinner wasn’t the super-splurge it would have been six months ago, it wasn’t inexpensive. For three courses with drinks and tip, expect to pay at least 25,000 kronur for two, about $200 at the current rate of 126 kronur to the dollar; but that’s more than a third less than six months ago, when the rate was around 78 kronur to the dollar.
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